Ukulele Baby…….

It was a cold and grey Spring morning that broke with an awful lot of rain squalling about.  Perfect weather for ducks and for the potted herbs and plants I am growing on the balcony but not so much for skulking around in.  Now normally on a Saturday morning if the weather is like this, and unless I was going outrigging, I would have had little desire to get out of my warm bed but in another part of Newcastle, a lovely ray of sunshine was about to break and it was called the Newkulele Festival.

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This is a festival dedicated entirely to the ukulele.  How perfectly wonderful because apart from my passion for yodeling and velvet paintings from the early 1970’s, I also adore the ukulele.  I have owned a uke for many years.  Even before it was hip to do so.  When I first became acquainted with this dear little accoutrement I felt as though I had run a marathon, eaten an entire block of chocolate and simultaneously met the love of my life…….which it turned out I had!

I find the ukulele charming and it’s a lot of fun.  It is quite easy to learn to play as there are only four strings so once you master the basic chords along with a bit of basic strumming technique, you are pretty much on your way.   Thing is, it does require a little skill and a lot of practice to play the ukulele well.

I am not often one to acknowledge my abilities however I do recognise my once barely there playing skills have improved considerably over the years.  I haven’t had lessons but I do have a handbook and I also watch the occasional video on YouTube about playing.   I just prefer to noodle away on my own, often in the company of Zoe, or I’ll strum along to a tune or ten which crackle out from my old transistor radio set to the Golden Oldies station. I even wrote two songs on my ukulele.  Hey, I never said they were good.  The first one I wrote about 10 years ago was for Gus and the other was a little jazzy number about insomnia.  I should point out I cannot sing.  I have the most terrible voice and I am, for the absolute life of me, unable to hold a tune or sing in key.  Mere technicality though.

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This is how I think I look playing the ukulele…….

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This is probably how I really look……..

The Newkulele Festival ran work shops for beginners to advanced players, singing and harmony sessions, finger picking, ukulele arranging, swing hokum and ragtime lessons, rock and roll and simple chord progression.  You could even book in to make your own ukulele.  There were stalls and market stalls where you could try out and buy a new uke.  I mean really, why have one when you could have seven.

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There was a youth stage and a main marquee for day and night gigs which saw some of the best of local and international acts.  Ukulele teachers shared information, lessons and strumming secrets and then there was my favorite.  The open mic.

No doubt this was the best part of the festival for me.  A ‘first timers session’ where everyone, no matter who they were or what their level of skill got up and performed.  Egos, worries and hipster attitudes were all left at the door and everyone in the bistro bar at the Newie Jockey club just rooted for each performer.  Don’t you love the power of positive and encouraging attitudes.  Stray cats, alley cats, hep cats, stolen kisses, rainbows, original songs and covers, a little base a little blues and little rock and roll, love and riptides were all strummed plus there was even a moment of yodeling.  Oh happy days!

You know, sometimes I can feel a little like a five-legged pony in a field of thoroughbreds and I would dearly love to have had the confidence to get up and play.  I don’t nor have I ever performed with other ukulele players, for others or in front of others with the exception of my cats so therein lies a slight problem.  Who knows though, perhaps one day I will.  After all, stranger things have been known to happen.

Ukulele players are a bit of a quirky lot too and never in one place will you see so much floral or colourful print outside of Hawaii or such happy, soul beautiful and carefree people.   You always see a happy face on a uke player.  My thought would be that this is because there is a high string at the top and the bottom  of your ukulele so whether you strum up or down you will always end on high (and happy note).  The ukulele is also a very agreeable travelling companion so here is a great tip – never leave home without your ukulele!   I left mine in Australia when I went to live in America and deeply regretted that decision.  It was however, one very happy moment of unpacking it two years later though.

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The ukulele originated in Hawaii and luckily I not only discovered outrigging while there last year, but I also found myself smack bang in ukulele heaven. Quite simply there is nothing more comforting than the smell of coconut oil, rum cocktails served in tiki heads and being surrounded by ukuleles. And if you want to buy a ukulele then this probably the place to be. Every shop in Hawaii sells them but if you want a better quality one and not just a toy souvenir, then don’t buy from the larger souvenir shops such as Hilo Hattie, ABC or Whalers General.

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I found a beautiful little ukulele while in Hawaii.  Vintage and perfectly pre-loved. I picked it up.  I put it down. I strummed it and I plucked its faultless strings. It had a lovely sound and it sat perfectly in my hands and against my body. I worried about the wood ……just a little.  I worried about not buying it….an awful lot. I wanted it more than anything but I let it go and I have been kicking myself ever since. Perhaps, it really is just all about holding on and letting go…….. or heading back to Hawaii to buy it.

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This is a 1928 pineapple ukulele.  Do I want one.  Yes!  Do I need one.  Oh absolutely!!

Sadly, we are going to have to wait another two years for the festival to come back around to Newcastle.  In the meantime though, it will give you a chance to discover the ukulele if you haven’t already done so and it will also give me the opportunity to perfect the riff from AC/DC’s Thunderstruck.

There really is just something quite lovely about this little flea that brings joy and happiness and sometimes, you can’t ask for more than that.  So here’s hoping your week is full of good music, kindness and anything else that makes you feel pretty  wonderful ……..xx

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Nearer my donut to thee…….

It is almost 12 am and I’m propped up in bed with the sweet little cat for company while trying to catch up on my blog.  Hold up like this I have the mood of a convalescing character in a Bronte novel, but this really is a lovely time.  It is dark, quiet and peaceful, save for the occasional rattle of the glass in my bedroom window thanks to a low pressure system which moved across our coastline earlier this evening.  I have just discovered too the difficulty in compelling one’s self to write something for a blog post, especially about nothing in particular.  So given this, I will just concentrate on the past week or so which has been kind of big.

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As I write this post I realise too that I have somehow slid very nicely in to my 50’s not at all feeling my age.  At this moment I am alert, happy and feeling a little invincible but that could also be due to the fact I was outrigging on the harbour again earlier this evening. And hand on heart I will say this – outrigging by moonlight is pretty darn wonderful!   Below you, inky deep water of the channels and above, a huge slice of a stunning night sky.  The evening air of Newcastle port, one of the largest and busiest working harbours in the world, smells deeply of the ocean too and little more. With over 90 million tonnes of coal shipped throughout the year and also being the passage for many large tankers and ships, it is undoubtedly an incredibly healthy and stunning waterway.

It really is a lovely time to be out but it is also bloody hard work.  Outrigging is challenging and physically demanding and holy cats, have I had some sore muscles and blisters to prove it.  It does however, drive me out of my comfort zone and it also necessitates me to mix again with others.  Not something most of my readers will appreciate, I relish with any enthusiasm.   Nevertheless, it is a worthy marker by which to test myself as outrigging appears to make one strong in so many ways.  Perhaps too it will also offer the opportunity to smooth down some of my occasional sharp edges and be the grease to loosen my often disquiet gears.

I first became aware of outrigging when in Hawaii last year after seeing the canoes drawn up on the sand.  Later that afternoon, I watched a group of men paddle one out but did not know that things would move and gather to where I would find myself in an outrigger almost 14 months later.

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I have discovered there is real discipline to this sport and a beauty within the liquid flowing movement required to pull the outrigger through the water.  It is the succinct union of mind and body, not always easily accomplished, which demands my attention to just being present, digging that paddle in and powering on.  I am learning much and I am deeply appreciative and respectful of my very tolerable and accomplished instructors as I am of the established yet welcoming paddlers already in the group.

Outrigging it seems, has become a notable fever that cannot be cooled even from the occasional dousing thrown up by the bow waves of the passing tug-boats or ferry or as with tonight, when a fortuitous thunderstorm drenched us to the bone.  I am yet to encounter one of the massive tankers while out on the water but perhaps fate will see our paths cross in the not to distant future.  In the mean time though, it’s about finding what you enjoy and just doing that……which brings me to donuts!

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Now they say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit and I am about to put that theory to the test as I have eaten more than my fair share of donuts lately.  To say I have over-indulged would be an understatement so given this, I am about attempt a little detox or if my resolve holds, a very good shot at complete abstinence from my donut addiction.

You see I love donuts. Donuts are both my comfort food and my go to celebration food.   My donuts however, as with most things, must meet some very strict criteria:

  1. They must be served hot,
  2. They must be rolled in cinnamon sugar once straight out of the boiling fat and the all-important third requirement,
  3. They must only come from Donut King.

And here is an interesting fact about donuts.  They are far healthier for you than crack cocaine.

The realisation of my donut affliction has been acutely pricked as recently I have experienced the joy of celebration and the sorrow of loss.  Changes are a foot and there had been some small but niggling worries which dogged my week.   The insensitive and intrusive use a mobile phone camera being one of them.

Mal, I have learned too is leaving to live in Queensland.  Notice of his impending departure has not sat easily with me.  Mal became my surf buddy after we met on a rock platform at Cowrie Hole shortly after my return from the USA earlier this year.  Although his lack of fondness for dairy and coffee is highly questionable, I will miss his good company.  We have a month and a half remaining so cometh those beautiful early morning waves.

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On a sadder note, handsome and gentle Bozo Bob has gone.  Bozo Bob was an incredibly sweet and lovely old dog who I had been walking for an elderly gentle man Mac.  This dear dog with his slow and waddling gait won himself plenty of fans and he was a treasured old boy to many.  I have such great affection for animals and I much prefer their company to that of humans any day. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way I am.  People very often disillusion however animals expect nothing more than the commonality of genuine kindness, love and quiet respect.

Bozo’s life could no longer be sustained.  To say it was a heartbreaking moment is trivial because the loss of a companion is never easy.  The silence of his soul leaving was deafening but it is the sound of sorrow which has filled the cavernous hole his quiet loss created that is most undeniable.  It is understated in the extreme to say Bozo is missed but I have profound empathy for Mac as he is suffering greater pain and sorrow than I at this moment.

We took Bozo Bob’s ashes to Horseshoe Bay early this morning and we let the gentle tide carry him out for one last swim. Standing with Mac on the sand I felt that strange mix of love and deep sorrow which seems to so intricately weave itself around those left behind. I realised too while standing there, that Bozo had a wonderful life where he was deeply loved and cherished which is something all beings should experience during their lifetime. Therein, I truly appreciate the importance of living a meaningful and almost breathtaking life and accept as heartwarming, a passing.

I don’t want to make any grand sentimental statements about loss because it affects everyone very differently but to me loss and heartache are very much like a dull bruising of ones’ spirit.  A penance of sorts that will sear its pain so deeply and acutely that you cannot forget it is there.  Death is one of life’s certainties and the loss initiated by it often drives me to seek answers. Loss and death are unavoidable in life and when that moment comes and is narrowed to its very sharpest of points, relinquishment of that soul is the only grace by which to move forward with.

Though there have been difficulties, they have sat side by side many other good things. I had some work published in an anthology collection. Viewing my work in print profoundly humbles yet it also bestows a deep yearning that is driving me to work much harder toward something I truly want to accomplish……and I will.

I also witnessed the immense goodness of people at a rally in Sydney to end live export. The merciless reality of this industry is not inescapable yet out of such enormous cruelty, inhumanity and brutal lack of compassion for animals came the elegant and strong voices for justice, comfort and reason. Always fight for what you believe in no matter the consequence!

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I know whatever life throws at me I will always come out on the side of optimism and hope.  Life will always hold with it loss, challenges and sadness but with that also comes so very much to be grateful for. Solace will beckon from your acknowledgement that you have had and will continue to have wonderful experiences, good people coming into your life, amazing opportunities, wonderful friendships and many donuts and from this alone, the elegance of gratitude and love will win out every time.

For me, the real beauty in any challenge or the change it brings is that you will find the person who begins a journey is never the same one to end it.   We all experience difficulties and challenges but it is what we do with these hurdles that determines who we are and who we become.  I am certainly not the same woman who set foot back on Australian soil earlier this year.  I know I am far more resilient and I am strong.  I have had the very great privilege of knowing and returning from what others fear most but more importantly, I no longer limit what my true possibilities are.

And from what I thought to be nothing much at all came a blog post and on that note, we will say goodnight and wish the world the very sweetest of dreams……. xx

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